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WTO: Giant Steps in the World Conference

Roberto Azevêdo is the director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

NAIROBI, Dec 23 2015 (IPS) - World Trade Organization (WTO) members concluded the Tenth Ministerial Conference in Nairobi on 19 December by securing an historic agreement on a series of trade initiatives. The “Nairobi Package” pays fitting tribute to the Conference host, Kenya, by delivering commitments that will benefit in particular the organization’s poorest members.

Roberto Azevêdo

Roberto Azevêdo

The decision on export competition is truly historic. It is the WTO’s most significant outcome on agriculture.

The elimination of agricultural export subsidies is particularly significant.

WTO members, ¬especially developing countries,¬ have consistently demanded action on this issue due to the enormous distorting potential of these subsidies for domestic production and trade. In fact, this task has been outstanding since export subsidies were banned for industrial goods more than 50 years ago.

WTO members’ decision tackles the issue once and for all. It removes the distortions that these subsidies cause in agriculture markets, thereby helping to level the playing field for the benefit of farmers and exporters in developing and least-developed countries.

This decision will also help to limit similar distorting effects associated with export credits and state trading enterprises.

And it will provide a better framework for international food aid ¬ maintaining this essential lifeline, while ensuring that it doesn’t displace domestic producers.

There are also important steps to improve food security, through decisions on public stockholding and towards a special safeguard mechanism, as well as a package of specific decisions for Least Developing Countries (LDCs).

This contains measures to enhance preferential rules of origin for LDCs and preferential treatment for LDC services providers.

And it contains a number of steps on cotton, such as eliminating export subsidies, and providing duty-free-quota-free market access for a range of LDC cotton products immediately.

In addition, we have approved the WTO membership of Liberia and Afghanistan, and we now have 164 member countries.
And I think we are all committed to supporting these two LDCs to boost their growth and development.

We also saw continued commitment to help build the trading capacity of LDCs through the excellent support shown at the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) pledging conference.

And, finally, a large group of members agreed on the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Again, this is an historic breakthrough. It will eliminate tariffs on 10 per cent of global trade ¬ making it our first major tariff cutting deal since 1996.

While we celebrate these outcomes, we have to be clear-sighted about the situation we are in today.

Success was achieved here despite members’ persistent and fundamental divisions on our negotiating agenda – ¬ not because those divisions have been solved.

We have to face up to this problem.

The Ministerial Declaration acknowledges the differing opinions. And it instructs us to find ways to advance negotiations in Geneva.

Members must decide, the world must decide, about the future of this organization.

The world must decide what path this organization should take.

Inaction would itself be a decision. And I believe the price of inaction is too high.

It would harm the prospects of all those who rely on trade today ¬ and it would disadvantage all those who would benefit from a reformed, modernized global trading system in the future ¬ particularly in the poorest countries.

So we have a very serious task ahead of us in 2016.

We came to Nairobi determined to deliver for all those we represent ¬ and particularly for the one billion citizens of Africa.

At the outset, I warned that we were not looking at a perfect outcome. And what we have delivered is not perfect. There are still so many vital issues which we must tackle.

But we have delivered a huge amount. The decisions taken in Nairobi this week will help to improve the lives and prospects of many people ¬ around the world and in Africa.

When we left Geneva, the international media had already written their headlines:

-‘WTO talks break down’

-‘Another failure at the WTO’

That’s exactly how it was in the Ninth Ministerial Conference in Bali two years ago. And we saw it again this year.

Well, we’re getting used to proving those catastrophic headlines wrong.

In the past, all too often, WTO negotiations had a habit of ending in failure.

But, despite adversity ¬ despite real challenges ¬ we are creating a new habit at the WTO: success.


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